Not long after arriving in Vancouver, BC on Friday, April 8, I found myself in front of the main entrance of the Pinnacle Hotel Harbourfront waiting for a cab to take me to an appointment on Commercial Drive. Audible from where I stood was the conversation of two men and a woman in their late 40s or early 50s. They were all smoking cigarettes like students pretending to be adults in an elementary school play. The three clearly wanted the world to know they were smoking, and were proud of it, and were very much enjoying it.
I heard one of the men say, "Remember when you could smoke anywhere? You could smoke in a bar, or at work, or on a plane. That was amazing." All agreed that those were the days. "And you did not have to wear a seat belt," said the woman of the group, blowing a big puff of smoke into the night air. "Do you remember that? I tell my kids: You could go wherever you want with no seat belt on, and they just can't believe it. No seat belt. Ever."
My cab arrived, I entered it, and as I was transported to Commercial Street, I found myself trying to make sense of what I had just heard. Something was not right about it. But what was it? I would only find out on Sunday, April 10.
But before the puzzle was solved, something of significance happened on Saturday, April 9. After having lunch with my partner at the superb and affordable Japanese restaurant, Sushi Yan, which is said to be the oldest sushi restaurant in Vancouver, I found the sun out, the air crisp, and the sidewalks filled with people. This was the best possible environment for a long walk. My destination was a Spanish restaurant on Main Street called Bodega. (The place serves a respectable morcilla—blood sausage—and Spanish wines.) I was to meet an old friend there, and the one who told me many years ago that Sushi Yan was the city's first sushi or Japanese restaurant.
During my walk, I heard someone rapping to a beat. The rapper (not bad, not good) turned out to be on a stretch that separates Robson Square from the Vancouver Art Gallery. As I approached his stage, which was a flatbed trailer, he had just concluded one track, whose beats (not bad, not good) were pumped from speakers plugged into a smartphone; and at the time I arrived, he was making a rather long introduction for his next track. He had three kids on his stage. One was wrapped in a Canadian flag. Many in this audience waved and wore Canadian flags. The rapper said something like: "I wrote this three days ago... It's my latest... It's very important to me... It's called 'My Body, My Choice.'"
As the beat erupted (not bad, not good), I found myself in a state of puzzlement again. Was I missing something? If so, what was it? Was it cultural? Was this the sort of thing Canadian men do? Rap openly about the importance of reproductive rights? I just couldn't believe or understand it. "Come on everybody, say it with me. My body, My choice." He had just written this? I dropped the whole matter from my mind upon reaching the corner of Robson Street and Howe Street. This is the block dominated by Nordstrom and Microsoft. I call it little Seattle.
Sunday morning arrived with a mist. Vancouver Harbor, visible from the sliding glass doors of my hotel room, reflected not only this mist, which the rising sun was already evaporating, and which covered much of the mountains north of downtown, but also the length of a picture-still crude carrier cargo ship and seaplanes that approached or departed from the Vancouver Harbour Flight Centre, whose network of docks connected with a building designed by Seattle's LMN architects, the Vancouver Convention Centre.
I was moments away from reading a book in bed when I heard an unusual amount of honking. And the more I read, the louder the eruption of honking became. Finally, it became a racket that made reading impossible. I walked to the sliding doors, pulled them open, and looked down on the street. Nothing. I looked in the direction of the Vancouver Convention Centre, whose six-acre green roof was partially visible, and saw something that made my soul sink like a stone through a cloud: Pickup truck after pickup truck circling a small road (West Waterfront Road).
Each assault vehicle, as some call them, honking louder than the other assault vehicle. And attached to each of these tank-sized gas-guzzlers were two huge Canadian flags. Finally, the Friday conversation at the hotel entrance fell into place, and the faux pro-choice rapper fell into place. Anti-vaxxaers, inspired by the Freedom Convoy, had flooded the city. But why? That Friday, the mask-mandate was dropped. Was this a celebration of the emancipation from the government's control of body and soul? No. It was this: "'You are not welcome': Super protest takes aim at Bill Gates in Vancouver":
The Canadian freedom convoy people apparently hate Bill Gates not because he has way too much money (a market failure, if ever there was one), and many hard-working people have too little of it. Not at all. It's because the billionaire is a famous advocate of life-saving vaccines.
Bill Gates is one of the headliners for Ted Talks here in Vancouver, BC April 10-14th at the Vancouver Convention Center, along with Al Gore, Finnish PM Sanna Marin, and Elon https://t.co/f0fq6Ys56k's so important that ALL Canadians need to show up for this protest.
— Tracy McKay (@TracyMc35909442) March 25, 2022
The convoy came all of the way from some small BC town called Penticton to make as much noise as possible on the streets next to the Vancouver Convention Center. A crowd of freedom Canadians formed in Jack Poole Plaza. Between speeches that said the usual kinds of things about Bill Gates and King Justin Trudeau, as well as some very unusual things about Elon Musk (his Starlink satellites were, if I understood correctly, part of a Satanic plot to control the earth with robot soldiers), were blasts of the Beastie Boys' "Fight for Your Right [to Party]" or Pink Floyd's "Another Brick In The Wall [Part Two]."
What to make of this? Canada, which has about the same population as California, has so far seen 38,000 souls sucked into the no-thing at the core of the pandemic. Covid is obviously a real killer, and it's made life miserable for millions, and this two-year-old pandemic is still far from over. But it is here, of all places, that lots of white Canadians (and even more US Americans), have concentrated (wasted) so much political energy. What to make of this? The black French mid-century psychiatrist Frantz Fanon once asked: What does the black man want? Meaning, is it just recognition? Is there more to it than that? We can turn this troubling question around and ask: What do these white people really want?
The truth is they do not know. Why? Because they are protesting something that is empty, and therefore (unbeknownst to them) is safe. The police will never stop them. They can honk all they want. But the moment they speak about unions and other things that count, that will be another matter. Those on top will let these freedom people hump as many chairs as they want.